In Sickness and in Health

Battling cancer with love, medicine, and the Giver of both.

Thoughts on chemo, cancer, pain, gratitude, healing, and Jesus

As of today, chemo treatment 4 of 12 is complete. Fractionally we are at the ⅓ mark. Decimal: 0.333333333 (ad infinitum). Percentage: 33.333333333% (ad infinitum). I prefer the fractional form. It feels more concrete with less infinity involved.

As a predisposed pessimist, I find myself dreading the week and a half after chemo. I dread watching my vibrant wife battle constant, nagging pain. I dread the helplessness of wanting to share the pain with her. I dread the four more months of this vicious cycle–sickness, health, sickness, health, sickness…

This whole experience has been a grueling exercise in gratitude. I used to think gratitude came naturally for some while others were cursed with a keen awareness of the world’s problems. To my shame, I have secretly despised optimists, especially those who experience tremendous pain and seem unfazed by it. Immediately, I would doubt their honesty. Are they not aware of the wrongness of what they’re going through? Do they never doubt the goodness of God? Is their gratitude genuine, or is it a Stoic coping mechanism, a psychological bandage? And so, I cynically insisted on sitting in the shadows while those who had every right to do so basked in the sun. Now that we are in what feels like the battle of our life, my entire understanding of gratitude is undergoing serious renovation. Right down to the foundations.

Gratitude is not an innate response; it’s a choice.

Gratitude is not an emotion but a virtue.

Gratitude is not a flippant denial of brokenness; it’s a triumphant decision to reject despair and live in the hope of the redemption.

Gratitude is gut-wrenching, soul-baring discipleship.

Gratitude is mucking through swamps of despair and lies while clinging to the assurance of a new heaven and a new earth and new bodies and Jesus as King.

With these thoughts in mind, I am grateful for:

1. My family (including parents, brothers, sisters, sister-in-law, brother-in-law-elect, nephews, and dog). Specifically I am thankful for Dad, Mom, Phil, Laura, Carson, Ashton, Drea, Andrew, Jake, Crit, Trina, and Dakota.

2.My family-in-law (including parents-in-law, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, nephews, and nieces). Specifically, I am thankful for Dad, Mom, John, Rose, Lexi, Ryan, Shari, Aarick, Regan, Kelly, Ben, Heather, Jaden, Josh, April, Andi, and Ted. In-law jokes continue to fall flat with me. I simply cannot relate to them.

3. My dog, Jäger. No, I didn’t name him after the beverage. In fact, I didn’t even name him. But I like Jäger. It means “hunter” in German. And all tee-totaling aside I could totally see him swagger into a pub and knock back a Jägermeister.








4. A good oncologist and nurses. Specifically, Dr. Ali and his team.

5. Community and friends. Specifically…I really don’t have time or space. From the East Coast to the West Coast, from south of the border to north of the border, from American shores to the European shores and possibly even beyond, if you follow this blog, you may consider yourself a part of this group. If you wish to know for sure, please leave a comment, and we’ll let you know.

6. A bedtime snack of graham crackers dunked/soaked in ice-cold milk.


Recently, last week actually, I was in constant pain for several days.  At one point I found myself just sitting on our couch, moping.  Angry or discouraged is perhaps a better description.  Most of the pain was due to gas caused by who knows what.  Chemo messes up the whole GI.  My tummy just hurt.  Not strong pain, but just constant, wearing pain.  I was burping all the time!  Talk about losing all your femininity.  Josh just kindly smiles and says, “Do what you need to do.”

[Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy a good burp, but four times in a row is a little much.  I’m debating joining a burping contest and getting some mileage out of this mess. :)]

I had asked God to take away the pain.  Why wouldn’t He?  I was doing things to help Him: taking over the counter stuff that supposedly helps with gas, and exercising.  As I sat on my couch, I developed a strong, bittersweet urge to read a miracle of healing in one of the Gospels.  Reading about healing while I sat in misery seemed a bit stupid at first thought.  Why rub it in, like lemon juice in a cut?  I did it anyway.  In retrospect I realize it was a desire to be convinced again that Jesus ministry was real!  He actually did take people just like me and touch them and heal them.  I took my Bible and paged through Matthew till I saw a chapter speaking about healing.  It was chapter 8.  I started reading.  Incredible stories.  Outstanding faith.  All He had to do was touch those people.  Did they have any idea of the grandeur of this man?  Of the magnitude of His ministry?  Of the dynamics of the times?  Do I?

I had an overwhelming desire to live at that time.  Yeah, I know, there was a ton of messiness right about then, especially if you were a Jew.  I don’t care!  Seeing, touching the Son of God??  Not to be compared.  I wanted to be touched too!!  I cried out for it…on my couch.  And God’s answer?  “I’m allowing the pain, but I’m still healing you.”  Is joy always touched with pain?

I kept reading until I came to verse 17: “This [referring to the miracles of healing and casting out demons] was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: ‘He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases.’”  This is not a nebulous, other-worldly, highfalutin, spiritual concept, folks!  This was written in the context of very earthy, very physical healings.

Then it hit me.  All those miracles came at a cost.  And immediately my question became, “Did Jesus actually feel physical pain every time He healed?”  It says He Himself took our infirmities.  What does that mean?  Does it mean He took them away or took them on Himself?  I’ll let you decide.  I don’t claim to know.  My theology is still developing.  [Josh has been contemplating this passage from Isaiah ever since I was diagnosed, so some of my musings have been spurred by him.]

However, think of the implications if He took them on Himself.  It means Jesus actually suffers every time we are healed.  And yes, I consider it to be healing any time some ache or pain is finally alleviated.  I may still have cancer, but I experience healing all the time.  To recover from chemo every two–or three–weeks is a miracle in itself.  You too experience His healing…all the time.  Relief from a common cold is direct healing from the same Man who touched all those desperately sick people!

Whatever your theology, thank Him next time for what it costs to heal you in this broken world.


Chemo #3

This is the patient reporting.  Josh did not go with me today due to my sister, Shari, and her daughter, Kelly, being here.  I am so thrilled it worked for them to come.  What a magnificent treat!  More on that later…

So…I was able to receive chemo today because my counts were back up.  In fact, they were way up.  My over-all white cell count was 22.5.  Sorry if that doesn’t mean anything to you.  Normal is 4.0-11.0.  The shots I received this last week have obviously been doing their job.  I go in tomorrow for a Neulasta which is a shot that is supposed to “work” only as my body needs it.  So somehow it is “preserved” in my body until my counts get low, then it kicks in and makes my body produce white cells.  Pretty cool!

I’ve been very emotionally weak lately.  I haven’t exactly felt the luster to live this story with all its messiness and fears and insecurities and hardships.  Many times I’d rather just throw it all back at God and say, “Here!  It was a great idea to use the brokenness of this world to show your redemption and to make me grow through the process, but can I pass this time?”  The heaviness of the journey has been weighing on me extra much.  I don’t know why.  Seems like you work through fears and worries only to have them come back and haunt you in your weaker moments.  I am a soul and body completely dependent on God.  Here’s a verse I read this morning from Psalm 73.  Verse 26.  “My flesh and my heart may fail me, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  YES!

I’m writing this at about 11:00 p.m. and feeling quite perky.  Sleep seems miles away.  Surprise!  Or not.  The nurses are like, “Well, get some movies or a good book.”  And I’m like, “I think I’ll just take a nice little pink Benadryl pill and have a good night’s sleep, thank-you very much!” 🙂

I have my own personal chef and hospital chauffeur and back massager all in one [or two] here til Wednesday.  Shari and Kelly arrived yesterday.  So…ahem…this is my time to thank Ryan for sharing his wife and daughter and sacrificing for his boys.  Also to Shaunda and Mom for filling in and making this possible.  We are having a blast!  They took me in to the infusion center today and stayed with me most of the time.  Kelly did so well playing with her toys, looking at books, and cheesing at the nurses who melted at her charms.  What a delight to proudly introduce my sis and niece to them!

There are few things that delight me more than being with kids.  So having my niece around is therapy that no hospital could ever give. 🙂  She was enjoying my hats [and husband] tonight.  Here is the proof.




















Jean’s counts are up and chemo is under way. More details forthcoming…

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There and back again

After a delicious weekend escape to the hills of Luray, it feels a bit surreal to be in the infusion center again. Reality can be so pleasant one day and so harsh the next.

But the pre-1st anniversary, pre-3rd chemo treatment, mini-vacation was an oasis.

Luray is a classy-but-down-to-earth, friendly, Virginia town. Kinda like the lady in the picture.

Here she is looking like a 19th century golf pro. She played like it too. I lost. I’d like to blame it on the shoddy course, but I know better. The friendly service at the Days Inn just barely made up for the 1950’s-era amenities.

The caverns. Enchanting describes it as well as any word. I can understand why ancient cultures believed in an underworld.

150+ feet under the earth and trying to get our faces to show with a no-flash camera.

The ticket also included admission to a fun car and carriage museum…

…and to the Luray Valley Museum which had a one-room school and a Mennonite meeting house on display.

We decided to take the long way home via Skyline Drive. Instead of sprawling vistas we saw clouds. Which were magical for about twenty minutes.

Contemplating the mist.

At 1800 feet we got our vista and a perspective on the 3000+ foot overlooks. The clouds actually draped across the mountain range like a blanket.


As I was writing the previous section, Jean’s pre-chemo blood tests came back, and it’s a no-go again. The white cells are down to 2 something and neutrophils are 0 as in zilch. Basically, what this means is that she’ll be getting a shot every day this week followed by a neulasta injection on Tuesday after chemo. This should keep her on track for the rest of chemo.

We’re trying to understand and accept it all. Understand it because her counts were good a week ago, and she feels great. Accept it because it means another delay, more meds, and some unknowns.